I’m not a wide-eyed roller coaster enthusiast, so please forgive me if I breeze through a discussion of the new Manta ride at Sea World Orlando with minimal attention to industry detail. I have little formal education in the world of inversions and pretzel loops, preferring to simply, perhaps mindlessly enjoy my limited time being heaved through the air, leaving the suspect jargon to those who know exactly how to wield it. All I can safely type is this: Manta is a gorgeous coaster with some serious deficiency in the awe department.
Situated near the entrance of the underdog Orlando fish park, Manta is a stunning, eye-catching new roller coaster looking to boldly step up Sea World’s game as Universal fills time before unleashing Harry Potter in 2010, and Disney commits suicide by refusing to approve any new builds. Manta is a splendid statement of design creativity and lavish landscaping detail that is sure to please bustling summer crowds, likely leading to massive word-of-mouth lines during the off season this coming autumn. It’s park jewelry of the highest order, and a needed reinforcement of crowd-luring potential for Sea World now that, ya know, all the free beer is gone.
However, riding Manta during its vulnerable soft-opening period left me underwhelmed. Not angry or crushingly disappointed, but oddly deflated, like I missed the bullet points of ecstasy the towering Manta vistas secretly promise at the front gate. Still, the ride is beautifully themed, turning the front end of the park (typically reserved for shopping and Shamu photo ops) into a sparkling Manta Ray oasis, with the queue exterior resembling a high-end tropical resort covered in tasteful rockwork and inviting waterfalls. Unlike the decidedly more barren home for neighboring thrill ride Kraken, Manta maintains a lush atmosphere, making entrance into the ride nearly impossible to resist.
Once inside the queue, the guest is confronted with a series of aquariums teeming with fanciful sea life. The godsend here is that the majority of the Manta delay is kept indoors, with air conditioning blasting to swat away the demonic Florida summer heat. The maze of brightly lit aquariums is the cherry on top, making extended wait times painless with the abundance of eye candy about. I wish more rides provided the same visual effort to help distract guests when lines grow to absurd lengths.
After snaking through the immersive and creative Manta queue, the actual ride is more of a blunt-edge experience than expected. Unlike most roller coasters that feature the riders in a sitting position, Manta clamps down on prime body parts and maneuvers guests to a face down position. For the Orlando area, this is a first, as well as my introduction to this sort of coaster architecture.
The upside? It’s an original take on a familiar thrill ride trajectory, adding a level of surprise that keeps the event fresh and exciting. The downside? Well, see these things:
Dirty feet. Get used to ‘em, because if you happen to ride Manta on any row but the first, these filthy babies are going to be your only view.
Here’s my main complaint about Manta: there’s no perspective to follow during the ride. Strapped into a seat that’s pointed down, the ride forces the guest to focus on the world flying below them, which is often a blur of blue paint and curious tourists. Traditional roller coasters have that primo element of dread, where certain doom crawls ever so closer as the car blasts onward. Manta doesn’t share that sensation, electing to disorient the rider with an unclear idea of a viewpoint. Natural instincts push the head upwards to witness where the car is headed, yet with Manta, you’re more likely to spy dangling, unwashed feet. I’ve ridden the coaster twice now and I’m still lost over where the ride would like me to look in the heat of the moment.
With visual tension out of the question, the real ride experience of Manta is regulated to the flurry of butterflies and guttural screams of fright, as the coaster hits some amazing g-force pressure points while zigzagging around themed sprays of water (to simulate the aquatic grace of the titular creature) and various loops. Basically riding on your stomach, Manta does provide a singular opportunity to test out Superman skills, inviting an arms-outstretched pose that should fulfill every Man of Steel fantasy around, greatly enhanced if the rider can block out the dolphin stadiums and $7 churro stands that litter the view.
Sent through an impressive battery of twists and turns and loops and plunges, Manta finally returns the rider back to home base, or at least near the load station, kicking off a good 2-3 minute wait to disembark while every drop of blood rushes to the head, guaranteeing beet-face post-ride appearances to those sensitive to unnatural body placement. Being a trial period, I’ll give Sea World some slack here, hoping that sluggish unload times will be eradicated once technical routines are properly choreographed. A brain sloshing around in a pool of blood (loose anatomy assumption, I know) isn’t a comfortable feeling, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that both times I was peeled off Manta, a throbbing headache soon followed. I’ve never experienced this painful sensation before from a coaster. A girlfriend, sure. But never a coaster.
As a new toy for Sea World, Manta can only grow more efficient and ideal as a thrill ride centerpiece. With all the kinks worked out, this could be the most popular coaster addition to Florida, and I wouldn’t begrudge anyone their opportunity to soar through the sky on this smooth metal beast. Just toss a few Advil into your coin pocket, and the adventure awaits.